With former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral this week, my thoughts have turned towards leadership again. I’ve been inspired by his leadership style throughout the years since it seems to be themed around the person. I’m from the South, so the art of weaving conversation through work, personal, and even political is something I cherish. Bush also seems to understand that a personal touch is crucial to leading effectively.
I love the quote that Bush’s biographer, Jon Meacham, says of him, “he was a lion who not only led us but loved us.” Bush put his personal touch on leadership by actually writing notes to folks that he knew, even when he was swamped as the President. This relationship building allowed Bush to take risks and be a better leader. For example, he developed a long-time relationship with journalist Maureen Dowd. Even though they staunchly disagreed at times, Bush took the time to write her a note when her mother died, commiserating about his own mother’s death. That personal touch wasn’t for show – he meant it. That’s what I think marks him as such a good leader. Knowing those who you work with goes farther than politics or work or any other drama. People are just people – and they deserve to be loved. That’s one of the ways to incorporate diversity and to open doors for those who are still uninvited and whose voices we still need to hear.
Leadership is often thought of as the relationship between the person who leads and the person who follows. But what I’ve taken from Bush is that leaders are also formed and molded by our friends. Take my relationship with my dear friend and colleague, Preeti. Would we both be in crucial leadership roles if we hadn’t opened doors for each other? Would our daughters have the same role models to look towards? Would we be able to lead in the way that we do, if we did not have our deep friendship?
Preeti and I have spent years together, supporting each other, working towards intertwined goals. What are we doing our work for? Maybe it’s for ourselves, our own success, our desire to blaze a trail… but if you really sat down with us for even fifteen minutes, you’d hear how passionate we are about something else: our daughters. We have grown together as our daughters have aged; commiserating about the woes of middle school, laughing at their childlike humor, and supporting each other as we mother. This strong personal relationship has helped us in our professional lives – it creates trust, depth, and honesty. We can take greater risks as an organization because we can rely on each other if things go south. In essence, one of my strengths as a leader is that I have such strong relationships with other leaders, like Preeti. Our personal friendship shows that we can lead our families and our organization better when we’re together.
Let’s be like George H.W. Bush, putting the personal touch onto our leadership. As a woman in a male-dominated field, I recognize that leading other women needs to be personal. My successes aren’t just for me – they also invite others to the table by helping represent that the path to law, reform, justice, and even directorship is accessible to other women. Finally, my relationships allow me to take risks and to reach out to others who need to be heard – which means that I can help grow more leaders in different ways.